Proposal Would Let Voters Split Duval School District; an Analysis Says Cutting School District Sizes Would Boost Graduation Rates

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Byline: SEAN LAVIN

TALLAHASSEE - Six superintendents could preside over six separate school districts in Duval County under a legislative proposal to let voters split large school districts by a local vote.

The proposal, crafted by Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, seeks to amend the Florida Constitution to allow districts with at least 45,000 students to split into separate districts of at least 20,000 students. Only Duval County would be eligible in Northeast Florida.

Wise's legislation is pending in a Senate committee, but a similar proposal by Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, requiring split districts contain at least 25,000 students, cleared its first House committee in late March.

"We have the largest school districts in America," Wise said, suggesting the large size hurts district efficiency and students' education.

According to a House analysis, large school districts tend to have lower achievement and higher dropout rates, and reducing the size of school districts could raise Florida's graduation rate by 5 percent.

The analysis identifies Duval County as the 19th-largest school district in the country and cites it as an example of a large district with poor performance, with its average for failing schools three times higher than the state average.

Schools in Orange and Dade counties, the 15th- and fourth-largest districts nationwide, respectively, had an average twice as high as the state's for failing schools.

Last year, a similar proposal to limit a new district to 45,000 students passed a House council but was never debated by the Senate and died.

But this year, the proposal has received more attention from Republican leaders, as House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, included it in his book dubbed 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future.

The measure must win 60 percent approval by the Legislature and then a statewide vote by the same margin before eligible counties could hold local elections to split their school districts. …